Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring James Allen McCune and Callie Hernandez
In Theaters Now
I wanted to like Blair Witch. I really did. I wouldn’t call myself a “die hard” fan of the original, Blair Witch Project, but I still contend that it’s one of the most inventive and deeply chilling horror films of all time. While it may have more or less kickstarted the “found footage” genre, it made smart choices. Perhaps part of the charm of the Blair Witch Project is that it wasn’t hampered by all the cliches that have become so commonplace in the found footage genre. Or maybe it was because it was smartly written, brilliantly acted and while it had some creepy elements it made you create the horror in your own mind. A lot of people I’ve met who don’t like the Blair Witch Project, aren’t that smart. And while I wouldn’t contend that you have to intelligent to understand it, the more you allow your mind to wander, the more you can create something pretty terrifying out of that 1999 film.
Which brings us to the sequel. While this is technically the third film in the Blair Witch series, the less that’s said about Blair Witch 2: Electric Boogaloo, the better. That film took a meta approach weaving the movie and a traditional horror plot together for something what wasn’t satisfying on any level. Blair Witch (2016) has the benefit of going back to what worked in the original. Unfortunately, it far too often strays into the same problems that have bogged down the genre since the original.
One of the things I did like about this movie is that it’s a nicely devised concept. Heather from the original Blair Witch (sadly no cameo) had a kid brother that we never saw. He’s grown up wondering what really happened to his sister and is convinced to go out to the Black Hills to find her. Of course, there’s some plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through as well. For example, Heather’s brother James, isn’t the one on the quest, but rather his friend Lisa is. She’s also making a documentary, because, of course.
Naturally we know that these characters are going to end up in the woods and bad things are going to happen. I don’t think I really need to give spoiler warnings, because nothing in this movie is really going to be spoiled by mentioning these particular plot points. I mean, everyone knows that there will be creepy woods stuff in a movie about the Blair Witch.
But that’s largely part of the issues with this movie. First and foremost, it’s too slick. Too fancy. Everyone looks like a magazine model. The original Blair Witch Project shined because everyone looked real. They were relatable. It’s hard to relate to a guy who looks like he should be on the cover of GQ. The girls are pretty, but that’s not really what we’re here to see. Even when our heroine, Lisa, is covered in filth, she still looks beautiful. The casting choices here are odd. It’s just so young Hollywood and none of the grit and rawness that made the first one seem special.
Casting aside, the rest of the movie is too slick. While cameras have come a long way since 1999, this never feels genuine. Everyone has 2 or 3 cameras that they use, including a drone, DSLRs and so forth. But the footage, for the most part always looks the exact same. Perfectly shot, cautiously shaking, 1080p with a grain filter on it. It doesn’t look like it was really shot by the actors. It looks like cameramen shot it. I’m pretty sure they did.
The sound is equally as bad, because it’s all so good. Everyone’s voices are perfectly mic’ed. It lacks the “real” sound of the original, where voices were often heard far off camera. The “scary sounds” are loud, overwhelming and amped up for the theater experience. Again, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a movie.
And all of this would be excusable to some extent if the plot itself was good. But these characters are paper thin, we never care about them. There’s a very brief attempt at a love story, but there’s nothing there for anyone to get invested in. Had the characters not spent most of the movie running around screaming each other’s names, you wouldn’t know who anyone’s name was. It starts to grate on the ears as they yell a bunch and we’re fed false jump scare after false jump scare.
Sure you get some of the Blair Witch staples. People stand in corners. People disappear. There’s noises out there. There’s an old house. Weird stick figures. There’s that creek. But we’ve seen all that before and it was done better the last time around. Much of the new elements add little to the narrative and we’re now treated to scenes where our characters get “got”. It’s not quite Jason Voorhees catching up and killing them one by one, but it definitely feels more akin to that, then the slow looming dread of the original film.
There are a couple of neat ideas in the movie, which mostly come as a result of two of the peripheral characters who have faked some Blair Witch sightings. They introduce a couple of interesting concepts, including the idea that time is not what it seems in the forest. These ideas run a bit contradictory to the original movie, but I’d let that slide if they were fleshed out in a meaningful way. Unfortunately this isn’t followed up at all during the movie and is just left as a dangling thread that isn’t interesting enough on it’s own and doesn’t help this movie at all. It’s a lost opportunity to expand the mythos.
We leave Blair Witch knowing virtually nothing more than we knew last time around. Sure, this time we see some new things, including an assortment of goblin-like creatures, scary witch flashes and what I couldn’t help but feel like was a giant. Throughout the movie we hear loud booming sounds, with trees breaking around, it sounded like a giant was trampling through the forest. They never mention a giant, so I don’t suspect I was supposed to get that vibe, but it certainly felt that way to me.
Unfortunately Blair Witch falls flat. It’s largely a rehash or a remake, pretending to be a sequel. But where the original film was brilliant in it’s subtly, this movie hits you over the head with all the typical ghost movie nonsense. I started to wonder why characters continued to act like this was normal. Certainly I’d be scared in if I was in the woods and kept getting lost and hearing creepy things as happened in the original Blair Witch Project… But in Blair Witch, characters are introduced to the idea that reality as they know it is completely different. There’s mind bending concepts around every corner, so why do they still run and scream as if this was normal horror? Once all of reality is proven to be sham, I think you’re much less likely to be afraid of spooky sounds and weird Gollum creatures. But maybe that’s just me.